With Halloween approaching and the annual return of all things that go bump in the night on the big screen and on our TVs, The Edge writers pick their favourite horror movies, the films that make you jump, make your skin crawl and plague your mind for weeks to come. Read ahead for a look back at some of the best terror inducing flicks of the last several decades, the ones that, no matter how frightening or tense they may be, we can’t help but love!
The Witch (2016) dir. by Robert Eggers
When it comes to provoking pure horror, there has been no film in the past few years more successful than The Witch. The genius of The Witch comes in how it disregards many of the same, tired tropes that have tied down too many horror films of the past couple of decades – there are no jump scares, there is no final “battle” against an evil demon, spirit or psychopath, and there is next to no gore. What The Witch uses instead is pure tension, and unease. From the unnatural goings-on in the woods and around the farmhouse, to the dark natural lighting used throughout, to the use of genuine 1630s dialect in the script, the entire film has been constructed to create a hauntingly suffocating sense of dread that lingers long after the credits roll. True, there is nothing especially “scary” about the film; rather, director Robert Eggers has used every tool at his disposal to simply induce the feeling of fear in the back of your mind, without providing a single jump scare or action sequence as an outlet for you to release that fear. It’s not a horror film for everyone – if you enjoy those action sequences & jump scares, or can’t stand historical dialogue or the admittedly slow-moving plot, you won’t enjoy The Witch. But if you could capture fear in a bottle – true fear, dread and unease – and apply that to film, The Witch is the result, and I love it.
words by Sam Law
Kill List (2011) dir. by Ben Wheatley
If you managed to catch Ben Wheatley’s atmosphere-heavy Kill List back in 2011, you may be forgiven for not having slept properly since. Oozing with an insomniac essence of pure paranoia, Kill List is a film which puts you in a dazed state of terror that lingers. Merging social realism with genre elements, it creates a penetrative feeling of home which makes the horror intensely visceral. The tale of two hit men who take on a high paying job involving the killing of three men which unravels into a terrifying conclusion. It may have a simple plot, but Kill List offers a complex and violent onslaught of a film for which explanation does little justice. An unconventional indie drama at heart but pitch-black horror at its very soul, Wheatley’s foray into fear proves to be one of the most eerie cinematic experiences in recent memory. As a result, Kill List maintains an unparalleled discomfort which it seals with one of the most brutally shocking conclusions in cinema. As British horror goes, it’s The Wicker Man for the 21st century.
words by Liam Beazley
The Evil Dead (1981) dir. by Sam Raimi
Written and directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker and Theresa Tilly, The Evil Dead tells the tale of a group of five friends who go to a cabin in the woods and unleash evil spirits which slowly start possessing them. The first reason why this film is at the top of my Halloween binge watching list is for the mind-blowing cinematography. Sam Raimi knows how to immerse the viewer into the film’s creepy atmosphere, with the movements and the tracking shots making the tension palpable, giving you the sensation that it is you trapped inside this nightmare. Even for what could be seen as a dated 80s horror film, it is properly terrifying; The Evil Dead gives you this overwhelming sense of tension because every time the camera is moving apace through the forest you know something terrifying is about to happen. Slowly, we start to empathise with the characters. There is something about this movie that will get under everybody’s skin, and that is what makes The Evil Dead a classic. Horror fans will find their dose of creepiness with a fair amount of genuine jump scares and crazily intense moments. For most of the movie there is no dialogue and it is the score from Joseph LoDuca that serves as guide through all the emotions you will feel, working in tandem with the cinematography. It does everything right; the pacing is perfect, the cinematography, the score and the acting are all outstanding. The Evil Dead is a classic for a reason.
words by Leyla Hattabi
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. by Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo Del Toro’s Spanish-language dark fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth, combines the horror of a childhood surrounded by conflict with the childish longing for fairytale endings, creating an ethereal world of fauns and fairies around a young girl caught in the middle of it all, Ofelia, the reincarnated Princess of the Underworld. The film, El laborinto del fauno (The Labyrinth of the Faun) in its original Spanish, finds its beauty in the creation of its creatures, brought to life by a combination of astounding make-up and animatronics, assisted by some stunning CGI. The ambiguously kindly Faun (confirmed by del Toro to not, in fact, be Pan), his stick insect fairy messengers, and the sickly, child-eating Pale Man will haunt only the prettiest of dreams, but will haunt them for a long time nonetheless; repulsive, beautiful, and memorable. The mortal characters are equally as enthralling; Ofelia’s pregnant and increasingly ill mother, ruled by her militarily controlling husband; the housemaid secretly committing treason by assisting the rebels, with the help of the base’s doctor, and not least young Ofelia, who captures completely the limbo of adolescence, the space between believing in fairytales and accepting reality, of horror and fantasy, death and immortality. The film is a wondrous exploration of conflict and the human need to create stories to fix it. It is beautiful, repulsive, and unsurpassable in its capability to both terrify and comfort. It is humanity at both its worst and its best, and I adore it.
words by Sophie Jones
Donnie Darko (2001) dir. by Richard Kelly
When it comes to movies that are both creepy and surreal, 2001’s Donnie Darko ticks those boxes. It follows troubled teen Donnie, played here by a young Jake Gyllenhaal, as he is visited by the mysterious Frank the Bunny who tells him the world is going to end in less than a month. The film is brilliantly put together with some gorgeous shots, director Richard Kelly succeeds at capturing the late 80s setting. The performances in the film are also excellent, with Jake Gyllenhaal nailing Donnie’s insecurities and quirkiness whilst Jenna Malone is also great as the pensive Gretchen. Whilst not a full-on horror film by any means, Donnie Darko is still very unsettling at times. Frank’s sudden appearances and Donnie’s mysterious actions, combined with the excellent score from Michael Andrews, help creates an unnerving atmosphere. Donnie Darko is as funny as it is weird with both a memorable plot and characters, notably the iconic Frank the Bunny. Despite being a confusing watch the first time around, what with the theme of time travel mixed with adolescence, the film remains an intriguing and enjoyable watch thanks to some great writing.
words by Tom Wilmot
Psycho (1960) dir. by Alfed Hitchcock
Psycho, often referred to as the first slasher or psychological horror movie, may certainly be the pioneer of the horror genre. Though more a thriller than a horror movie, its villain, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is most certainly one of the most chilling characters of all time. While the coldness of Bates is one of the greatest feature of the movie, Hitchcock’s directing skills creates a whole new way to address horror in a film. Indeed, you know what is happening although you cannot actually see it. The famous shower scene is a masterpiece of suggestion; the audience looks successively at the knife, as Marion (Janet Leigh) screams while her wounds are never captured by the camera. The feeling of anxiety increases throughout the film until its climax, the camera is focusing on the clenching skull of the corpse and Norman enters with rage in his eyes. The fact that the movie is in black and white adds to the tension, played marvellously by the actors and Norman Bates diabolic face in the ending scene. Many will not consider it as a true horror movie, yet it has certainly inspired many horror films directors in the way they set the plot on camera.
words by Lisa Veiber
It Follows (2015) dir. by David Robert Mitchell
By far one of 2015’s best pickings, It Follows is every modern horror junkie’s dream come true. Its incredibly unsettling and uncanny tone blankets a thought-provoking exploration of sex, youth and abject fear, cloaked in several layers of disillusionment and time without end. No on-screen deaths (bar one), no major jump-scares (bar one and a half) – It Follows relies less on the genre tropes it toys with, and more on its sustained, suspenseful approach and mesmerizing visual style. Writer and Director David Robert Mitchell intended the film to, in part, serve as both a homage to the horrors that inspired him (the influence of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is pretty hard to miss), and an assured continuation of artistic horror, favouring simmering tension over perpetual spikes of terror, leaving its abject imagery and the waiting spaces between moments of chaos carry the film’s shock factor. An abnormally tall man with blacked-out eyes stepping through a doorway from the darkness of the corridor; a naked man standing motionless on the roof of a house; a distant figure walking towards the camera in nearly every frame. Simple, creepy, and utterly hypnotizing, It Follows is, and will always be, a masterpiece of minimalist horror.
words by Sophie Trenear
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. by Jonathan Demme
There are few films in this world that can be easily argued as being a cut above the rest, in a class of their own. Without a shadow of a doubt, The Silence of the Lambs is one of these films. A two hour masterclass in acting, writing, directing and, above all, tension, The Silence of the Lambs is a classic of the horror-thriller genre. In Jodie Foster’s FBI agent Clarice Starling, we have an inquisitive, intelligent and determined protagonist who faces the threats and mystery of her case head on, even when it crosses her path with that of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr Hannibal Lecter. In roughly 20 minutes of screen time, Hopkins immortalised both himself and his character, Lecter now stands as one of the all time best movie villains and it is a performance that evokes an icy terror inside, and Hopkins does it with a look. Such minute details in a horror film is a testament to the power of The Silence of the Lambs, it gets under even the toughest of skins and cuts through to your core like a hot knife through butter. And that’s without even mentioning Ted Levine’s Jame Gumb, a disturbed and bizarre killer who frightens audiences through his overtly sexual behaviour, mercurial demeanour and sickening desires. The Silence of the Lambs remains grounded though in its terror, the hunt for a serial killer which becomes less about connecting the dots and more about surviving long enough to survey the damage and trying to recover from a trip through a psychological playhouse. This one is truly in a class of its own.
words by David Mitchell-Baker